The decision by Warner Bros. Television to shut down its Television Workshop for Emerging Writers and Directors sparked outrage from those worried about a major setback for women and people of color trying to make careers in Hollywood.
But on Wednesday, parent company Warner Bros. Discovery said it’s not dropping programs to develop writers and directors of color after all. The company said in a statement that its pipeline programs will exist under its broader diversity, equity and inclusion umbrella, where they will specifically focus on working with writers and directors from underrepresented groups.
The company didn’t give many details about how the revamped programs will work, but said it would “build on the successful program launched by” Warner Bros. Television and would extend them beyond to the larger Warner Bros. Discovery.
This does not change the fact that the programs of Warner Bros. Television, as they currently exist, are disappearing. Chairman of Warner Bros. Television director Channing Dungey said in an email to staff on Tuesday that the company would end the programs after the current class of 2022-2023 writers complete their work in April.
The program selects writers and directors from thousands of applications, exposes them to Warner Bros. executives. and subjects them to on-site workshops at the Burbank studio – including lectures, a mock writers room and director’s shadowing – to prepare them for careers in entertainment. The goal of the writers program is to recruit participants for Warner Bros. shows.
“While we no longer have these formalized programs in place, we remain committed to developing and nurturing emerging talent and preparing them for careers in television,” Dungey said in the memo.
The program’s demise coincides with the decision to cut 82 employees and eliminate 43 vacant positions from the Warner Bros. workforce. Television as the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, adopts cost-cutting measures to satisfy Wall Street. Zaslav promised $3 billion in savings from the combination of Discovery and former WarnerMedia entertainment assets, which include Warner Bros., CNN, HBO and Cartoon Network.
The announcement of the new program is a clear attempt by the company to calm the nerves of the creative community, which has seen the cost-cutting measures as a blow. Existing workshops were not presented solely as diversity initiatives, although a clear goal of the programs was to address the entertainment industry’s inclusion issues. Another initiative getting the ax is Stage 13, a short-form video-focused unit that also boosted early-career vocals.
The Directors Guild of America blasted the closures in a statement Wednesday.
“The DGA will not sit idly by as WB/Discovery seeks to roll back decades of advancement for women and directors of color,” the guild said. “This important program, mandated by the DGA collective agreement, aims to promote inclusive hiring practices for diverse talent and culminates in the opportunity for program participants to direct a television episode. The program, and others like it, are key to establishing an inclusive directorial workforce in the entertainment industry.
The union said it contacted the studio after the closure was announced and secured a commitment from the company. Warner Bros.’ the announcement came a few minutes after the press release from the DGA.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), in response to the program shutdown, criticized Warner Bros. Discovery for its diversity track record.
“So far the new @wbd [Warner Bros. Discovery] has been downright hostile to content creators, color makers, new voices trying to break into the industry, etc. “, tweeted the lawmaker on Tuesday. “The new WBD seems to be doing everything it can to make the company less inclusive while enriching itself from the communities they are ostracizing.”
The new Warner Bros. Discovery will be explicitly geared towards promoting diversity and inclusion behind the camera, according to the company.
Under negotiation agreements dating back to 2014, major television studios members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, including ABC, NBC, Sony and Warner Bros., have agreed to establish and maintain a Television producers designed to increase opportunities in episodic television with an emphasis on increasing diversity.
A DGA spokesman had no comment on Warner Bros.’ statement on Wednesday that it was moving its TV directors program from its television business to its diversity department.